A Texas man is facing federal charges after the authorities said he drove a pickup truck at speeds over 100 miles per hour during a police pursuit and crashed on Monday, killing eight undocumented immigrants.
The man, Sebastian Tovar, 24, of Austin, was charged Wednesday with “transporting illegal aliens resulting in death,” according to a statement from United States Attorney Ashley C. Hoff of the Western District of Texas and Shane Folden, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations’ San Antonio Division. If convicted, Mr. Tovar faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, federal prosecutors said.
The crash, after a high-speed chase that lasted nearly 50 miles, occurred Monday on U.S. Highway 277, about 30 miles north of Del Rio, Texas, on the Mexican border, officials said. It came less than two weeks after 13 people were killed in one of the deadliest border-related crashes in recent decades when a tractor-trailer slammed into an S.U.V. crammed with more than two dozen people in California.
Mr. Tovar was driving a maroon Ram pickup truck when a trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety tried to pull him over for speeding, officials said. When Mr. Tovar failed to pull over for the trooper, a chase began.
The Ram truck “fled at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour for approximately 50 miles,” according to a criminal complaint. The truck ultimately went into the opposing lane of traffic and struck a white Ford F-150 head-on, it said.
The crash killed eight passengers in Mr. Tovar’s truck, who were later determined to be undocumented immigrants, the complaint said. All were Mexican nationals between the ages of 18 and 20, The Associated Press reported, citing information from the Val Verde County sheriff, Joe Frank Martinez. Seven of them were men and one was a woman, the sheriff said.
The driver and passenger of the other vehicle were hospitalized in stable condition, federal officials said.
Photographs of the crash scene released by the Department of Public Safety showed what appeared to be the Ram pickup upside-down in the grass on the side of the highway. Pieces of wreckage could be seen strewn on the road and the shoulder.
After that crash, Mr. Tovar fled but was later caught and “made spontaneous utterances which implicated his involvement in the failed smuggling venture,” the complaint said.
Later, near the crash site on Highway 277, another Ford F-150 truck, colored tan, stopped in the northbound lane of traffic, the complaint said. When United States Border Patrol agents instructed its driver to return south on the highway, the occupants of the truck fled and “absconded into the bush,” the complaint said.
The agents later located 12 people from that truck and determined they were undocumented immigrants, the complaint said. Two of them said they had illegally crossed into the country near Eagle Pass, Texas, with a larger group of people that included individuals in the truck Mr. Tovar had been driving, it said.
The two people said they had family members in Mr. Tovar’s truck, according to the complaint.
Mr. Tovar is in custody and scheduled to appear in court early next month, according to federal records. Records filed with the federal court in Texas did not indicate whether a lawyer had been assigned to represent Mr. Tovar.